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Fatal Distraction

Dr. Steve Greene is now sharing his reflections and practical insights as a ministry leader on Greenelines, a new podcast. Listen at

Distractions can be more than a nuisance. They can kill your ministry.
No wonder I have a headache. A report I just read reveals that the average consumer is slammed by 3,000 marketing messages a day. Just thinking about this voluminous assault is enough to make my head spin. Advil, anyone?

Sometimes I feel cornered by this surrounding barrage of distractions. They're everywhere: television, radio, magazines, even my private e-mail inbox. It's irritating. But the truth is, distractions can be much more than irritating headache-inducers. They can be downright deadly.

Former Navy Cmdr. Scott Waddle found that out the hard way on February 9, 2001. His stellar career came to a swift and violent end when the nuclear attack submarine under his command, the USS Greeneville, broke the ocean's surface and collided with a Japanese fishing vessel, killing nine people. It was a completely preventable accident. One caused by distractions.

Sixteen civilian guests were aboard the Greeneville that day for a special excursion, part of a program set up by the Navy to impress congressmen and other influential people. Some of these visitors crowded the control room as Waddle and his crew performed maneuvers designed to dazzle the maritime novice. More concerned with impressing their guests than with following proper procedure, the captain and his men made some bad judgment calls. They didn't even see the Japanese fishing vessel until it was too late. Waddle and the Navy later acknowledged that the presence of civilians on the sub was a distraction, a contributing factor to the ensuing tragedy.

The sea isn't the only place where distractions can be deadly. They can throw a church into confusion and destroy one's pastoral ministry, too. That's why it's important for us to keep our calling in focus. If we don't, we open ourselves up to voices that can lure us away from it.

The commitment to keep a clear focus is one of the things I admire most about the apostle Paul. He knew exactly what God had called him to do, and he let absolutely nothing stand in the way of that. In Romans 15:20 he wrote, "And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named..." (NKJV). He was called to the Gentiles, the unreached. All of his decisions--even the smallest ones--were made in light of that calling.

What has God called you to do? Are you being distracted? Learn from Cmdr. Waddle. He was a good guy with a good heart who had done all the right things in a very accomplished career. But he did one thing wrong, one tragic day. It only takes one day, one decision, one moment to alter the course of your life and ministry.

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